Helen McGinty portrait: young woman blond straight hair

Helen’s Story

“I was young and free and had no reason to even consider this could happen to me” – Helen

Helen, now in her 30s, was only 18 years old when she was diagnosed with a germ cell tumour on her right ovary. She was healthy and had rarely visited a doctor but saw her GP when she experienced severe stomach pain. That visit changed her life.

“I am very grateful that the doctor that day decided to send me for an ultrasound although he was not concerned with my symptoms which passed by the end of that day. I felt fine and the pain had gone however I decided to go and get the ultrasound. The pain, which had passed by the time of the ultra sound, had been in my mid to upper abdomen.The ultrasound showed up nothing abnormal but when I told them I’d had some slight changes in my periods, they took another look.

The sonographer found a 12cm growth on my ovary; but at this stage it was unidentifiable. I was referred to a gynecologist and was advised that I likely had dermoid cyst that would need to be surgically removed; I would go on a waiting list.

Three weeks after my initial visit to the GP I received a phone call from Christchurch Women’s hospital and they told me to come in immediately. The doctor who had received my case studied my blood test results and diagnosed my tumour as malignant. He told us that day; me and my Mum. We were given a pile of pamphlets about gynecological cancer.

I would need urgent surgery and chemotherapy once I had recovered. It is impossible to describe the feeling of being told this; it is terrifying and confusing and exhausting. Telling other people was almost worse – it was like reliving the pain and trying to act like I was not terrified and convincing people I was going to be fine. I had my surgery and I completed the chemotherapy and by the time I reached my 19th birthday I was discharged. Physically I am still in pain at times from the scar tissue from my operation partially blocking my bowel.

The lingering mental effects are still here to this very day to remind me that I am human and I am vulnerable. I worry about my health; every little pain or twitch in my body is interpreted as something much more sinister. I worry about my fertility having only one ovary and from the chemotherapy; research data on this is somewhat unclear and my fertility prior to diagnosis is unknown so there is no way to compare the effect.

However, I am one of the lucky ones – there are so many who don’t survive and we can only change this by sharing our stories and learning more about ovarian cancers that are taking so many of our beautiful women/wahine.